Before 2008, Nancy Keaton — elected this month as the first ever female president of the Centralia Rifle Club & Junior Division — had never fired a gun, and didn’t care to.
“My husband had been a member for years and years and he brought me down here in about 2008. I was quiet the whole way down because I was praying he’d forget his code to get in because I was so afraid,” she said.
He didn’t forget the code.
That first day, Keaton shot a .22 caliber bolt action rifle, and loved it. Later, the couple went out so she could try a shotgun. Again, she said she was terrified, but again, she had “a hoot.”
Since then, Keaton moved on to shooting competitively and is active in both the Centralia club and in the A Girl and A Gun group.
“That’s where I really realized how much it changed my life,” she said, remembering learning to shoot a handgun in the dark with a flashlight with A Girl and A Gun. “I thought, I am so far out of my comfort zone. Then I thought, if I can do this even though I’m terrified, I can get on a stupid plane, because I couldn’t travel I was so afraid of flying. Now I fly all the time.”
Keaton, 60, has worked at Centralia College for 34 years, and is currently the college’s Director of Family Development.
She plans to bring her experience in education to her leadership role in the club, expanding programs, education and trying to attract more participants.
Good education on guns, she said, could help other people conquer their unease about guns, just as she did.
“For one thing, I think any time you don’t know about something you’re afraid of it. Of course growing up I heard, ‘women shouldn’t have guns, they’ll just get taken away and used against them,’” she said. “Everything comes down to education.”
The Centralia Rifle Club was chartered by the NRA in 1928, but likely started closer to the end of World War 1, when soldiers came home with guns they wanted to continue to use. In its 90-plus year history, Keaton is the first woman to lead the group.
While she’s still learning about all of the president’s duties, she already has goals, including creating more programs to encourage participation in group activities.
“I want it to be a hub of education, of teaching more people about gun safety,” she said.
She also wants to increase self-defense classes at the club, including self-defense not including guns.
The club will also continue to be a space for friendly competition. Through her membership, Keaton became involved in competitions with the International Defensive Pistol Association, and said the Centralia club now offers competitions through Active Shooting International. Keaton also participated in three-gun competitions — in which a shooter moves between stages using a pistol, rifle and shotgun — though an injury has recently stopped her from doing that particular sport.
“That sport has really grown over the years,” she said. “There’s a lot of women who do that across the country.”
Keaton is also working to start a Washington chapter of the DC Project, which is focused on getting female gun owners to testify to lawmakers, showing another side of responsible gun ownership.
Asked what her husband thinks of her total conversion from terror at the thought of shooting a gun to being elected leader of a rifle club, Keaton said he’s happy to know she can back him up.
As to husbands in general, she said, “The rule is, you don’t get to get her hooked on shooting, then complain she’s using all your ammo.”